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Sanders v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

March 20, 2017

KELLY SANDERS, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          Christopher H. Steger, Magistrate Judge

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TRAVIS R. McDONOUGH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Kelly Sanders (“Petitioner”), a federal prisoner, timely filed a pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (the “2255”). (Doc. 91.)[1] He supplemented the motion on April 11, 2014. (Doc. 92.) The government responded (Doc. 97), Petitioner replied (Doc. 97), and Petitioner again moved to supplement his motion (Doc. 98)[2]. For the foregoing reasons, Petitioner's 2255 motion will be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 15, 2008, police searched Petitioner's hotel room in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and found cocaine base (crack), marijuana, and a firearm. On March 10, 2009, Petitioner was named in a three-count Indictment and charged with possession with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C), possession with intent to distribute marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(D), and being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). (Doc. 1.)

         During the proceedings, Petitioner filed a motion to suppress the evidence police found during the search of his hotel room. (Doc. 14.) The Sixth Circuit, on later appeal, summarized the testimony and the Magistrate Judge's findings regarding the search as follows:

At the hearing [on the motion to suppress], Officer Jason Dugan of the Chattanooga Police Department testified that the manager of an extended-stay hotel asked him to investigate potential drug trafficking due to constant short-term traffic coming and going from [Petitioner]'s room. When [Petitioner] answered the door, Officer Dugan explained the reason for the visit and asked for permission to search the room. Officer Dugan testified that [Petitioner] “said yes, we could search his room.”
[Petitioner] testified that when Officer Dugan informed him of the reason for the visit he opened the door to show Officer Dugan that the “only thing going on was he and his family were getting ready to eat dinner.” Contrary to Officer Dugan's testimony, [Petitioner] further testified that when Officer Dugan asked if the officers could search the room, [Petitioner] asked him if he had a search warrant. [Petitioner] stated that when Officer Dugan replied that he did not have a search warrant, [Petitioner] told him that he could not search the room, but Officer Dugan stated that he and the other officers were “going to go ahead and search anyway.” [Petitioner] then testified consistently with Officer Dugan with respect to how the officers discovered the marijuana and gun. [Petitioner]'s fiancée, Camellia Phinizey, also testified that [Petitioner] told one of the officers that they needed a search warrant to search the apartment and that the officers replied that “they [were] coming in anyway, and they did.”
The magistrate judge found that Phinizey's testimony was inconsistent in several regards, noting that she testified that she did not see the marijuana turned over by [Petitioner] even though she testified that she was in the living room for the first fifteen minutes of the search, during which both Officer Dugan and [Petitioner] testified that [Petitioner] turned the marijuana over to Officer Dugan. She also testified that the officers threatened her and [Petitioner] with taking away their children, but [Petitioner] did not testify about any such threat. Furthermore, the magistrate judge found that neither [Petitioner] nor Phinizey was forthcoming with the name of an individual with whom [Petitioner] stated that he had done some landscaping work. Thus, the magistrate judge determined that [Petitioner] and Phinizey were not credible witnesses. Finding the officers to be credible, the magistrate judge concluded that [Petitioner] knowingly consented to the search and recommended that the motion to suppress be denied.

(Doc. 86, Order of USCA.)

         Based on these determinations, the Magistrate Judge filed a report and recommendation recommending that the motion to suppress be denied. (Doc. 22.) Defendant objected to the report and recommendation, challenging the Magistrate Judge's determination that Petitioner was not credible. (Doc. 23.) The Court overruled the objection and denied the motion to suppress. (Doc. 28.) Subsequently, Petitioner filed a pro se motion to suppress the same evidence. (Doc. 59.) The Court again denied the motion. (Doc. 60.) After a jury trial, Petitioner was found guilty on all three counts. Because of his criminal history, Petitioner was classified as a career offender under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“USSG”) § 4B1.1 for the purpose of sentencing. Petitioner was sentenced to 200 months' imprisonment on Count I, 60 months' imprisonment on Count 2, and 200 months' imprisonment on Count 3, all to run concurrently. (Doc. 79.)

         On appeal, Petitioner contested the District Court's rulings on his suppression motions as well as application of the career offender enhancement. (Docs. 80, 86.) On appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentence. (Id.) Petitioner then filed the present 2255, wherein he moves to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence on the basis that his counsel was ineffective in arguing the motion to suppress. For the following reasons, the Court finds that an evidentiary hearing is not necessary, and the 2255 shall be DENIED.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a), a federal prisoner may make a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his judgment of conviction and sentence if he claims that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; that the court lacked jurisdiction to impose the sentence; that the sentence is in excess of the maximum authorized by law; or is otherwise subject to collateral attack. As a threshold standard, to obtain post-conviction relief under Section 2255, a motion must allege: (1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside the federal statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law so ...


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